[Viewpoint]Japan needs to assure its neighborsThe House of Councillors of Japan on May 14 passed into law a measure that sets up the procedures for an eventual national referendum on the controversial issue of amending the Constitution.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called revising the Constitution the core issue of his administration, even claiming that Japan should “break away from the postwar system.”
He proclaimed publicly that he would schedule the constitutional revision during his term.
The conservative faction within the Liberal Democratic Party cherishes the idea that the present Peace Constitution was imposed on Japan by allied forces when they occupied the country after World War II, and they have been claiming that an independent constitution chosen by the Japanese people should be promulgated.
The first step for the adoption of such an independent constitution, they say, was the adoption of the referendum bill.
The draft revision presented by the Liberal Democratic Party in 2005 was, in essence, a proposal that Japan would maintain Clause 1 of Article 9, which stipulates that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means for settling international disputes,” while revising Clause 2, which denies the right for the country to maintain “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential” and “the right of belligerency.”
In other words, the party wants to recognize the right to maintain military forces, by reshaping its Self-Defense Forces to a Self-Defense Army or National Defense Corps. However, its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, wants to add some new clauses to the Constitution related to environmental rights and the right for people to have their privacy protected, but not a revision of Article 9. The major opposition Democratic Party says its position is simply to make the Constitution future-oriented.
The passage of the referendum does not mean the Constitution will be revised right away.
When the Research Council on the Constitution of the Japanese parliament is abolished and the Constitution Review Committee is established, more concrete discussions about revising the Constitution can be made. However, the referendum stipulates that nothing will occur for three years.
In the meantime, political parties are banned from presenting a draft constitutional revision or on deliberating on such draft revisions.
In 2010, three years from now, the political parties are expected to present their draft constitutional revisions. If a draft revision presented by a political party is supported by two-thirds of the registered national assemblymen, the party can propose the constitutional revision. If a national referendum on the draft revision is held following 60 to 180 days of public notice, the constitutional revision can be finalized.
According to the schedule the Liberal Democratic Party has in mind, that would be 2011 at the earliest.
Watching Japan move toward revising its Peace Constitution, Korean people, who have unhappy memories of the past, cannot help but worry about a Japan that can engage in a war.
In the back of their mind is the anxiety that Japan will revise its Constitution and then become a dangerous country.
That is the sentiment of the Korean people.
It is natural that the concerns about the arms race in Northeast Asia between China and Japan have grown louder. It is even more so because Japan considers China to be a potential threat to its security and, at least, a competitor.
There is also a high level of concern about the danger of clashes among countries in Northeast Asia.
The revision of Japan’s Peace Constitution has become a matter of time rather than a matter of principle. But it is not necessary to worry that Japan will return to its prewar condition or become a dangerous country as a result of the constitutional revisions. There is no guarantee the revision will be done as the Liberal Democratic Party wants, or on its schedule.
That is because the Japanese people’s feelings about the Peace Constitution, especially Article 9, which has been a part of Japanese society for 60 years since the war, vary widely.
More than anything else, Japan should try to ease the worries harbored by neighboring countries over its move to revise the Constitution. In order to give assurances to other Asian countries, Japan should clearly explain that the revision will not turn it into an aggressive military power.
As long as Japan’s people act like they approve of its prewar stance by worshiping at the Yasukuni Shrine and denying responsibility over the comfort women issue, they cannot get rid of the distrust from Korea and China.
It is also necessary for Japan to proclaim that getting rid of its postwar system is different from getting rid of democracy and the image of a peace-loving country that Japan has acquired since the war.
*The writer is a professor of law at the Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Cheol-hee